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They broke the news to him: "Joseph is still alive. He is the ruler of all Egypt." [Jacob's] heart became numb, for he could not believe them (45:25).
Only after they gave the details of Joseph's words:
He saw the agalot - the wagons - that Joseph had sent to take him. The spirit of their father Jacob revived (45:26).
Rashi quoting Bereishit Rabba 94:3 brings the following tradition. Joseph asked his brothers to remind his father that the last topic that they had been learning together was the egla arufa. It was the password of authenticity from Joseph to his father that he was still alive. It would form a continuation to their way of life that abruptly broke 22 years previously. It was the prospect of that continuation that caused Jacob's spirit to revive.
The egla arufa is the calf whose neck was broken during the judicial proceedings of an unsolved murder. Its details are found at the end of Parashat Shoftim (Deut. 21:1-9). The connection between agalot and egla arufa is from the double meaning of the word. In Hebrew, the letters spelling agala meaning wagon can also spell egla meaning calf. It is for that reason that Jacob "saw the agalot that Joseph had sent" instead of "that Pharaoh had sent".
The Kli Yakar develops the link between the agalot and the egla arufa. With the egla arufa, the elders of the city in whose region the corpse was found are required to declare: "Our hands have not spilled this blood and our eyes have not witnessed it" (Deut. 21:7).
The Gemara (Sotah 45b) explains that the elders were not suspected of murder, but of knowing of the traveler and allowing him to go on his lonely way without food or escort… or in the time-honored words of the British passport, to fail to 'offer the… protection and assistance as… necessary.' The Maharal (1526-1609) explains that when a host takes the trouble to escort a stranger for part of the way, he shows that he feels solidarity with him. When people have such positive feelings towards one another, G-d responds by providing an extra measure of protection. If however, they had effectively written the traveler out of the community, he does not have this protection.
The Kli Yakar connects the escorting principle of the egla arufa with Joseph. "Joseph gave [his brothers] wagons according to Pharaoh's instructions" (45:21). The Kli Yakar emphasizes that this mode of transport was exclusive to Egyptian royalty. Jacob's spirit revived on seeing the wagons, for it showed that Joseph was consciously sending the most prestigious form of safety escort available in Egypt - Pharaoh's wagons - to promote the brothers' secure return northwards to Eretz Israel.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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